WASHINGTON — President Trump aimed a fresh barrage of criticism at Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell Thursday, escalating an extraordinary fight with a key Republican leader that could undermine the party’s ability to regroup and pass shared legislative priorities this fall.
In a series of demeaning tweets and public statements, Trump blamed the Kentucky Republican, who remains popular among GOP senators, for the party’s failure to muscle through an overhaul of the Affordable Care Act. The president also urged McConnell to ‘‘get back to work’’ on that and other campaign promises, including cutting taxes and spurring infrastructure spending.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Trump declined to say whether McConnell should resign but added they should ask him again if the Senate leader fails to deliver on the president’s leading priorities.
Trump said he was particularly miffed by the Senate failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act by a single vote.
‘‘For a thing like that to happen is a disgrace, and frankly it shouldn’t have happened, that I can tell you,’’ Trump said.
His associates said the attacks, which began Wednesday night and resumed Thursday, were intended to shore up Trump’s outside-the-Beltway populist credentials and would likely resonate with core supporters frustrated by a lack of progress in Washington.
But the tweets were quickly met with public and private defenses of McConnell — and rebukes of Trump. Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, tweeted: ‘‘@SenateMajLdr has been the best leader we’ve had in my time in the Senate, through very tough challenges. I fully support him.’’ And former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump adviser, said on Fox News that the president bears some responsibility for the Republican failure on Obamacare.
‘‘The fact is with a very narrow margin — 52 people— Mitch McConnell got 49 out of 52,’’ Gingrich said. ‘‘I think the president can’t disassociate himself from this. [Trump] is part of the leadership team. He is not an observer sitting up in the stands. He is on the field. It was a collective failure.’’
Even some Republicans close to the president suggested the move would hurt him on Capitol Hill, where relations with GOP leaders are already seriously frayed.
‘‘This strategy only alienates his Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill that he needs to move his agenda,’’ said one Republican strategist close to the White House who requested anonymity to speak more candidly. ‘‘The reality is that the president is now part of this process despite his frustrations, and yelling at his Senate quarterback isn’t going to help achieve these wins.’’
Trump, who is on a working vacation at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., has remained bitter about the collapse of efforts to repeal and replace former president Obama’s health law, a pledge the party has made since 2010 and a marquee campaign promise for Trump.
‘‘Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for 7 years, couldn’t get it done,’’ Trump said on Twitter on Thursday. ‘‘Must Repeal & Replace ObamaCare!’’
A few hours later, the president took to Twitter again, writing: ‘‘Mitch, get back to work and put Repeal & Replace, Tax Reform & Cuts and a great Infrastructure Bill on my desk for signing. You can do it!’’
Trump’s tweets came in the wake of McConnell’s suggestion that Trump’s lack of political experience led to ‘‘excessive expectations’’ for passing major bills.
The president has also faced heavy criticism for the fate of the health legislation. While he repeatedly called on lawmakers to dismantle Obamacare, he did relatively little to help develop — or sell — their replacement plans to the public at a time when polls showed the bills were highly unpopular.
Trump’s tweets this week come as lawmakers are poised to try to tackle other shared but challenging priorities when they return from their August recess. Besides Trump’s leading items, they are also faced with trying to craft a budget and raise the nation’s debt ceiling.
‘‘Discerning a particular strategy or goal from these tweets is hard,’’ said Doug Heye, a Republican National Committee communications director and former Capitol Hill staffer. ‘‘It just doesn’t help enact any part of his agenda, and it sends a further troubling sign to Capitol Hill Republicans already wary of the White House.’’
Trump to Putin: Thanks for cost-saving expulsions
BEDMINSTER, N.J. — President Trump said Thursday he is ‘‘very thankful’’ to Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling hundreds of US diplomats from Russia, because he said it helps him cut payroll.
Addressing for the first time Putin’s decision late last month that the US Embassy and consulates in Russia would have to cut 775 diplomatic and technical staffers, Trump told reporters he sees no reason for them to continue working in Russia.
‘‘As far as I’m concerned I’m very thankful that he let go a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll,’’ Trump said. ‘‘There’s no real reason for them to go back.’’
Trump gave no clear indication he was joking .
Putin’s order to expel diplomats was a significant escalation in tensions after the United States increased sanctions against Russia over meddling in the presidential election.
CNN fires commentator
NEW YORK — CNN fired conservative commentator Jeffrey Lord on Thursday after he tweeted a Nazi salute at a critic.
The action came hours after Lord tweeted the Nazi slogan ‘‘Sieg Heil!’’ at the head of a liberal advocacy group, Media Matters for America.
Lord said in a telephone interview he respected CNN but fundamentally disagreed with the network’s decision to fire him. He said his ‘‘Sieg Heil!’’ tweet was not an endorsement of Nazism but was meant to mock Media Matters and its use of boycotts of advertisers of conservative voices, which Lord equated with fascism.